A Terrible Fish, from Harper's
Among the inhabitants of the sea which, from their size or strength,
have been termed "monarchs of the ocean," are the saw-fish and the
sword-fish, which are formidable enemies to the whale; but it is not
merely on their fellow-inhabitants of the deep that these powerful
fishes exercise their terrible strength. Some singular instances are
related of their attacking even the ships that intrude upon their watery
domain. An old sea-captain tells the following story:
"Being in the Gulf of Paria, in the ship's cutter, I fell in with a
Spanish canoe, manned by two men, who were in great distress, and who
requested me to save their lines and canoe, with which request I
immediately complied, and going alongside for that purpose, I discovered
that they had got a large saw-fish entangled in their turtle net. It was
towing them out to sea, and but for my assistance they must have lost
either their canoe or their net, or perhaps both, and these were their
only means of subsistence. Having only two boys with me at the time in
the boat, I desired the fishermen to cut the fish away, which they
refused to do. I then took the bight of the net from them, and with the
joint endeavors of themselves and my boat's crew we succeeded in hauling
up the net, and to our astonishment, after great exertions, we raised
about eight feet of the saw of the fish above the surface of the sea. It
was a fortunate circumstance that the fish came up with his belly toward
the boat, or he would have cut it in two.
"I had abandoned all idea of taking the fish, until, by great good luck,
it made toward the land, when I made another attempt, and having about
three hundred feet of rope in the boat, we succeeded in making a running
bow-line knot round the saw, and this we fortunately made fast on shore.
When the fish found itself secured, it plunged so violently that I could
not prevail on any one to go near it: the appearance it presented was
truly awful. I immediately went alongside the Lima packet, Captain
Singleton, and got the assistance of all his ship's crew. By the time
they arrived the fish was less violent. We hauled upon the net again, in
which it was still entangled, and got another three hundred feet of line
made fast to the saw, and attempted to haul it toward the shore; but
although mustering thirty hands, we could not move it an inch. By this
time the negroes belonging to a neighboring estate came flocking to our
assistance, making together about one hundred in number, with the
Spaniards. We then hauled on both ropes nearly all day before the fish
became exhausted. On endeavoring to raise the monster it became most
desperate, sweeping with its saw from side to side, so that we were
compelled to get strong ropes to prevent it from cutting us to pieces.
After that one of the Spaniards got on its back, and at great risk cut
through the joint of the tail, when the great fish died without further
struggle. It was then measured, and found to be twenty-two feet long and
eight feet broad, and weighed nearly five tons."
An East Indiaman was once attacked by a sword-fish with such prodigious
force that its "snout" was driven completely through the bottom of the
ship, which must have been destroyed by the leak had not the animal
killed itself by the violence of its own exertions, and left its sword
imbedded in the wood. A fragment of this vessel, with the sword fixed
firmly in it, is preserved as a curiosity in the British Museum.
Several instances of a similar character have occurred, and one formed
the subject of an action brought against an insurance company for
damages sustained by a vessel from the attack of one of these fishes. It
seems the Dreadnought, a first-class mercantile ship, left a foreign
port in perfect repair, and on the afternoon of the third day a
"monstrous creature" was seen sporting among the waves, and lines and
hooks were thrown overboard to capture it. All efforts to this effect,
however, failed: the fish got away, and in the night-time the vessel was
reported to be dangerously leaking. The captain was compelled to return
to the harbor he had left, and the damage was attributed to a
sword-fish, twelve feet long, which had assailed the ship below
water-line, perforated her planks and timbers, and thus imperilled her
existence on the ocean.
Professor Owen, the distinguished naturalist, was called to give
evidence on this trial as to the probability of such an occurrence, and
he related several instances of the prodigious strength of the "sword."
It strikes with the accumulated force of fifteen double-handed hammers;
its velocity is equal to that of a swivel-shot, and it is as dangerous
in its effects as a heavy artillery projectile would be.
The upper jaw of this fish is prolonged into a projecting flattened
snout, the greatest length of which is about six feet, forming a saw,
armed at each edge with about twenty large bony spines or teeth. Mr.
Yarrel mentions a combat that occurred on the west coast of Scotland
between a whale and some saw-fishes, aided by a force of "thrashers"
(fox-sharks). The sea was dyed in blood from the stabs inflicted by the
saw-fishes under the water, while the thrashers, watching their
opportunity, struck at the unwieldy monster as often as it rose to
The sword-fish is also furnished with a powerful weapon in the shape of
a bony snout about four or five feet long, not serrated like the
saw-fish, but of a much firmer consistency—in fact, the hardest